Defenestration of Prague

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PRAGUE, DEFENESTRATION OF. The humorously complex word defenestration simply means throwing someone or something out a window (Latin fenestra, 'window'), but in Prague this action came to symbolize a national reaction to foreign or illegitimate rule. The first Defenestration of Prague occurred on 30 July 1419, when radical Hussites, in an action to free several Utraquists imprisoned by the magistrates, killed seven city councillors by throwing them out of the window of the New Town Hall and into the midst of an angry Hussite mob. Emperor Wenceslas (emperor 13781400; Wenceslas IV, king of Bohemia 13781419) was so enraged at this event that he died, perhaps of a heart attack. The next year Hussite rebels, led by Jan Žižka (c. 13761424), were victorious over the Roman Catholic king (later emperor) Sigismund (emperor 14331437; king of Hungary 13871437; king of the Romans 14101437; king of Bohemia 14191437; king of the Lombards 14311437) at nearby Vítkov Hill.

The Second Defenestration of Prague triggered the Thirty Years' War (16181648). During the stormy reigns of Rudolf II (ruled 15761612) and Matthias (ruled 16121619), the Bohemian aristocracy had extracted rights to Protestant worship and instruction, most notably the Letter of Majesty of 1609. But when subjects of the archbishop of Prague built a Protestant church at Klostergrab and others a church at Braunau, the archbishop ordered these churches closed. King Matthias brought this crisis to a head by ratifying the archbishop's order. In March 1618 a Protestant assembly protested the emperor's actions in stacking his council with staunch Catholics, but their protest was rejected. The Bohemian Estates, heavily Protestant and zealously protective of their rights to representation, stormed into Prague's Hradczyn Castle on 23 May 1618 and hurled two imperial governors, Jaroslav of Martinic and William of Slavata, along with their secretary out one of the castle windows. Their fall was cushioned by an accretion of refuse at the bottom of the castle wall, so they were not seriously injured by their fifty-foot fall. But peace was at an end. Within months the Estates had raised an army and ordered the exile of the Jesuits from Bohemia along with the confiscation of their property. They elected Frederick V of the Palatinate (elector palatine 16101623; d. 1632) as their king. In response, the Habsburg monarch, Ferdinand II of Styria (ruled 16191637), laid plans for the subjugation of Bohemia, a goal he effectively achieved at the Battle of White Mountain, 8 November 1620.

Defenestration continued to have such resonance in Czech history that other events, such as the death of Jan Masaryk (18861948), have sometimes been called "defenestrations."

See also Bohemia ; Hussites ; Prague ; Representative Institutions ; Thirty Years' War (16181648) .


Sayer, Derek. The Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History. Princeton, 1998.

Teich, Mikulas, ed. Bohemia in History. Cambridge, U.K., 1998.

H. C. Erik Midelfort

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Defenestration of Prague in 1618, the throwing by Protestant citizens of Catholic officials from the windows of Hradčany Castle, an event which contributed to the outbreak of the Thirty Years War.